Covenant College’s production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, entertained audiences with its fast-paced action and complex characterization on November 11, 12, 18 and 19. The performance marks the return of Professor Claire Slavovsky to the director’s chair for several years. The play’s direction was concise and traditional in style, serving Covenant’s minimalistic theater dynamic well.
The show featured performances by theater veterans Matthew Mindeman as Hamlet, Sammie Brown as Queen Gertrude, Rob Schoenthaler as King Claudius, Andrew Lupinek as Polonius, and Abi Ogle as Ophelia, along with a debut performance by Daniel Hollidge in the role of Laertes. The set was designed—with the addition of a runway ramp for this performance—by house set designer Amy Sue Upton.
The performance, Mindeman’s senior project, remained faithful to the classic interpretation of this beloved tale of betrayal, revenge and costly redemption.
Mindeman’s emotions ran to the the ups and downs of the tones of iambic pentameter as he portrays the moody-broody, possibly insane king to be. His characterization led the audience to question the sanity of Hamlet at any given moment.
“I tried to play the character scene by scene,” said Mindeman, “as to remain true to what is written in that particular scene.” Though this is a logical characterization choice, the nuances of the character were lost. Regardless, the character of Hamlet was still well performed and one could see the work that was put into his character research.
On the other hand, Mindeman’s performance shone when he interacted with fellow actors. Through the collaboration of other actors, Mindeman is better able to find roots within his character. For example, his interactions with Polonius and Professor Cliff Foreman as Hamlet Sr.’s Ghost brought out the unspoken nuances of Hamlet’s character.
Not all of Hamlet’s interactions with other characters were quite so layered. Mindeman’s Hamlet had more chemistry with his mother, the queen, than with his own love interest, Ophelia. The chemistry was off-kilter between characters who are supposed to share a intimate love connection. Siblings Ophelia and Laertes had more interpersonal chemistry than the queen and king, rendering Gertrude and Claudius’ swift, passionate marriage implausible.
The lack of cohesion between the set and the blocking was the most disappointing part of the performance. The runway ramp was not used to its full potential as it obstructed the view of the action for the audience. This did not lend to dynamic blocking for the cast. The bare space on the runway ramp drew the audience's attention to the unused area and created an expectation that was left unmet. The multiple house entrances underscored the unused space on the ramp space even more and detracted from the immersive fly-on-the-wall experience that one looks for in a compelling theater performance—especially in a performance with multiple entrances and a ramp.
Overall, the performance was very enjoyable with its less morose take on the tragedy. The actors played their parts to their credit. As far as a college performance of Hamlet goes, this show was one of the better ones. With Hamlet being Slavovsky’s first show at Covenant in many years, in my opinion, the production has been a success.